Well, it’s official. I am now employed as Bloomberg BNA’s federal transportation reporter. That means I cover federal transportation policy (if it moves, I’m probably writing about it) and the impact of that policy on advocacy groups, workers and state DOTs.
Since both Bloomberg BNA and BGov are subscription-based publications, I can’t share my articles on the blog but I can talk about the process (and tweet along the way).
Taking over one of the most important beats at BBNA is intimidating. Not only am I expected to produce innovative, insightful articles almost every day for multiple publications, but I also have to keep my thumb on the transpo pulse to make sure I don’t miss anything–that means checking blogs, advocacy websites, Twitter and reading e-newsletters daily.
Assuming the transportation beat when I did was particularly challenging. I shadowed the previous transpo reporter the last week in June–just as Congress was passing the first transportation reauthorization since the previous bill expired 3 years ago. The new 27-month transportation reauthorization was approved by Congress June 29 and signed by the President July 6. I was officially the transportation reporter July 5. Phew!
After about a month on the beat, here’s how I’ve survived:
Cultivate a great source list: Luckily, the previous transportation reporter left me with a lot of sources and even emailed each one introducing me. That was very helpful. I took the list of about 15 sources and started a Google doc. Over the past month, as different topics have come up, I’ve added more sources to my list. Now I organize my list by what aspect of transportation my sources are involved in (transit, air, rail or highways) that way when I’m reporting on a certain topic, I can just flip to that part of my list and start calling people.
Introduce yourself: Even with the email introductions, I thought I needed to take it a step further so I called and introduced myself to most sources. I also met some for coffee. During those initial introductions, I asked each source his/her thoughts on the recent reauthorization. Typical questions included:
- What did you like about the reauthorization? What programs that you support are in the bill?
- What don’t you like? What issues are still unresolved?
- What were the biggest changes? What should I look into/research more?
The answers to those questions helped ease me into the nearly 600-page bill that covers federal highway, transit and highway safety programs through fiscal year 2014.
Don’t box yourself in: As nice as it is to have a source list, I also know that every person I talk to has a stake in the legislation and it is important to interview as many people as I can to get the best idea of what’s really happening. This often involves looking for experts and groups that I don’t already have on my list. This is very important. I refuse to write articles using the same sources just because they are there. Lazy reporters are not good reporters.
Read everything: Everyday, I have at least three transportation newsletters and blogs that I read. I also try to read every legislative summary, Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, tweet and article I can get my hands on. It is very important to not only report the news but know what others are writing about. To follow the conversation on Twitter, I have a transportation list with sources from advocacy groups, the Department of Transportation and reporters. The list, separated from my Twitter feed, makes it much easier to know what’s driving the day.
If you’re stuck, just pick a topic: Often I go into work with no idea about what I’m going to write about that day. For a girl like me who prides herself on planning everything out, that is nerve-wracking. Some days, I come up short and don’t end up with a story. I try really hard to avoid those days. So, if I’m stuck, I’ll look at the list of deadlines for the transportation bill and find something I don’t know about. Then I start calling people up and asking how the program changed in the reauthorization. Often, a story will develop from that.
As I enter month two, with Congress in recess, the struggle to find good stories will become harder but it’s a challenge I’m ready to take on. To see what’s going on in transportation today, check out my twitter @heatherscope